The Theater of Tony Kushner Living Past Hope
The Theater of Tony Kushner is a comprehensive portrait of the forty-year long career of dramatist Tony Kushner as playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and public intellectual and political activist.
Following an introduction examining the influences of Kushner’s development as an artist, this updated second edition features individual chapters on his major plays, including A Bright Room Called Day, Hydriotaphia, or The Death of Dr. Browne, Angels in America, Slavs! Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness, Homebody/Kabul, Caroline, or Change, and The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, along with chapters on Kushner’s adaptations, one-act plays, and screenplays, including his two Academy Award-nominated screenplays, Munich and Lincoln.
A book for anyone interested in theater, film, literature, and the ways in which the past informs the present, this second edition of The Theater of Tony Kushner explores how his writings reflect key elements of American society, from politics and economics to race, gender, and spirituality, all with the hope of inspiring America to live up to its ideals.
Introduction: The feathers and the mirrors and the smoke 1. Grief pushes outward: Yes Yes No No and other early works 2. Past heaven, through the earth, to hell: A Bright Room Called Day 3. The progress of death in the land of pure delight: Hydriotaphia, or The Death of Dr. Browne 4. Troubling the waters: Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes 5. What is to be done?: Slavs! Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness 6. Marvelous dislocations: Homebody/Kabul 7. Underwater in Louisiana: Caroline, or Change and other musical works 8. You say you want a revolution?: The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures 9. The heart chases memory: Adaptations 10. I’m ready for my close-up: Screenplays 11. An undoing world: Kushner’s one-acts and unproduced work
"An erudite reading of Kushner’s little-known epic farce, Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne is provided by James Fisher, who seems to me the most deeply informed of Kushner scholars." (Harold Bloom, "Editor’s Note," Tony Kushner. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005, p. vii)
"To date, the only full-length study of all of Kushner’s plays is Fisher’s book, listed below. This exhaustive, detailed, and invaluable study covers the major plays, the one-acts, the opera libretti, the adaptations, and the unpublished plays." (Janet S. Wolf, "Tony Kushner," in Contemporary Gay American Poets and Playwrights. An A-to-Z Guide. Edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003, p. 258)
"Fisher’s work shows depth and thoughtful analysis. . .a coherent and exhaustive evaluation of both Kushner’s politics and his art." (Tom Smith, "Book Review," Theatre Journal, Vol. 55, No. 2 (May 2003): 383-384)
"Insightful and thorough examination of the Kushner canon. . .In his introduction Fisher astutely analyzes how Kushner’s admitted role models (Shakespeare, Brecht, Williams, and Kramer) have influenced his playwriting; but Fisher’s perceptions concerning the ways in which Kushner’s writing resembles that of Ibsen, Shaw, Wilder, Odets, O’Neill, Albee, Durang, Mamet, Shepard, and Ghelderode are masterful." (Mary L. Cutler, "Book Review," Modern Drama (Spring 2002): 173-176)
"Fisher (Wabash College) examines Kushner’s full career to date in this fine study. . .The great virtue of this book is Fisher’s attempt to present Kushner not as a gay playwright but as one of the prominent political dramatists in the US today. Since most studies of Kushner focus on Angels to the neglect of Kushner’s other works, the present volume makes for a welcome addition to all theatre and literature collections. . ." (A. J. Adam, "Book Review," Choice (October 2002): 277)
"Fisher’s volume. . .makes abundantly clear through sheer information that the relationship between Kushner and Brecht is begging to be explored within the German Studies classroom and scholarship." (Norman Roessler, Brecht Yearbook, 2002)
"A valuable book for anyone interested in American drama. . .offering crisp explications and fact-filled stage histories of Kushner’s varied canon. . . My vote is for James Fisher to write the continuing history of Kushner’s prolific and prophetic theater. No one is more qualified." (Maureen Curley, "The Theater of Tony Kushner (Book)," World Literature Today, Vol. 76, Issue 3/4 (Summer/Autumn 2002): 100)
"James Fisher, one of the most prolific theater scholars around, has just published his assessment of the entire works of Tony Kushner. . .a critical and coherent evaluation of all of Kushner’s work. . .Fisher’s research is exhaustive and his assessment is thorough, telling and tacit. . .While Fisher’s research is exhaustive and his analysis deep and probing, his work is accessible and enjoyable. . .Fisher is that rare scholar whose work is meaningful yet doesn’t intentionally confound its readers in an attempt to appear legitimate." ("Evenings Out," Gay People’s Chronicle (September 21, 2001): 10)
". . .the virtue of Fisher’s book is that he offers a comprehensive analysis. . .a useful accompaniment to any serious study of Kushner’s work." (Brian Crow, "Review," New Theatre Quarterly, Vol. XX, Part 2 (May 2004): 199)
"Fisher’s intelligence and his own compassion for the artist make his book a handbook to understand Kushner now, and a guidebook to imagine where the future will take him." (David Garrett Izzo, "Review," Journal of Modern Literature (August/September 2004)
When it first appeared in 2001, Fisher’s acclaimed study of Kushner's theater (CH, Oct'02, 40-0753) was the most astute and comprehensive examination of Kushner’s work to date. This well-researched second edition revises and expands the earlier edition to include plays, musicals, screenplays, and adaptations that have appeared in the intervening years. Fisher has added chapters on Homebody/Kabul, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, Caroline, or Change, and other musical works; Kushner's three screenplays for Steven Spielberg (Munich, Lincoln, and West Side Story); and his adaptations of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit and two works by Bertolt Brecht (The Good Person of Setzuan and Mother Courage and Her Children). Fisher explores Kushner as a political dramatist —“a comparative rarity among American artists" (p. xv), as Fisher notes—and introduces readers to the scope and breadth of the playwright's oeuvre (now spanning nearly 40 years), much of which is little known and rarely treated by scholars. This second edition also provides a penetrating portrait of Kushner himself—revealing him to be a brilliant thinker, historian, and public intellectual who draws on his vast store of knowledge to critically respond to the US and the world. An excellent bibliography completes the volume.
--M. S. LoMonaco, Fairfield University